Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Happy Bastille Day!

A very happy 14th of July to you all, commemorating the day when Parisians, spurred on by street orators like Camille Desmoulins, panicked about the economic crisis, the food shortage, the dismissal of the enormously popular finance minister, Necker, and the fact that the king had stationed foreign troops around the city. The king had done so to keep the Parisians from rioting at the loss of the only finance minister they had liked in the past five years, but this plan backfired catestrophically. The Parisians assumed that Necker's dismissal meant the triumph of the conservative faction and therefore the violent shut down of the National Constituent Assembly (the group that had broken off from the Estates-General and demanded a government with a constitution).

Several street orators jumped up onto tables to prolethyse the crowds, but the most famous of these is Camille Desmoulins, who jumped up onto a table whilst holding two pistols and shouted, "'Citizens, there is no time to lose; the dismissal of Necker is the knell of a Saint Bartholomew for patriots! This very night all the Swiss and German battalions will leave the Champ de Mars to massacre us all; one resource is left; to take arms!"

Unfortunately, the people didn't really have arms, so they raided where they could and, after about two days of continuous rioting, converged on the Bastille, where they heard there were arms and gunpowder. The Bastille was an old, costly fortress that was then housing a grand total of seven prisoners: four forgers, two lunatics, and one deviant aristocrat, the comte de Solages . The Marquis de Sade had been removed from the Bastille ten days earlier for harassing the people who walked too close to his window. Though the Bastille was not popular and was going to be shut down because it was too expensive to maintain, it was the place you were most likely to end up if you were arrested on a lettre de cachet, or rather, a letter signed by the king and a cabinet minister to enforce arbitrary legislation and effectively outlawing any possibility of an appeal.

After a shoot-out lasting several hours, in the Amateur Historian's personal favorite part of the proceedings, one man actually scaled the chains holding up the drawbridge of the Bastille and cut them down, allowing his fellow Parisians to seize the fortress and completely freak out the French aristocracy.

This culminated in the very famous dialogue between Louis XVI and the Duc de Rochefoucauld.

"Then it's a revolt?" asked Louis XVI.

"No, Sire," the duc replied. "It is a revolution."

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